A woman in Homerville, Georgia had two fingers amputated recently after an accident involving a power press. Her employer was cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for inadequate training, inadequate supervision, and inadequate safety precautions (failure to provide a guard). The responsible companies, Bway Corp. and Seaton Corp., have each received multiple citations from OSHA for previous safety violations. Though few details have been released, it appears that the worker may have simply not known the proper way to operate the machine. It is possible that she did make a mistake in operating the machine. Assuming this is the case, this raises some important issues relating to workers’ compensation law, as she is still entitled to workers’ compensation and possibly even additional tort damages.
This story illustrates well the rationale behind the “strict liability” compromise built into workers’ compensation law. Although the company was cited for workplace safety violations, one of those violations involved improper training and supervision. It is possible that a worker in similar situations under older regimes (pre-workers’ compensation) would be barred from any recovery at all due to the doctrine of contributory negligence. Under that rule, if the injured party bore any fault at all in the accident, the employer would be off the hook for all damages. While that rule has been abrogated by the comparative fault rule (which apportions liability in proportion to the fault of each party), still allowing at least partial recovery, the focus on this discussion is on the changes created by the workers’ compensation system.
Under workers’ compensation laws, the injured worker is entitled to a fix sum (depending on the injury) regardless of who was at fault or in what proportion. Here, although the company was cited by OSHA for violations, traditional tort litigation would still permit them to dispute the extent of their liability if in fact the injured worker was negligent. However, under the workers’ compensation compromise, the injured worker is entitled to her statutorily mandated damages regardless of whether she was partially at fault. This regime permits both employee and employer to avoid the costly and time-consuming litigation that may be involved with disputing the extent of liability.
Possibility of Additional Tort Liability
However, workers’ compensation does not always fully satisfy the damages sustained by injured workers. Generally, workers’ compensation is an exclusive remedy replacing tort damages. However, in Georgia, additional damages may still be available if a third party is liable and the workers’ compensation payments do not “make whole” the injured worker. These recoveries are subject to subrogation and for this reason (along with the additional costs involved) many workers choose not to pursue these remedies. Nevertheless, if a third party was clearly negligent and workers’ compensation alone does not make a worker whole, this option is available. Because two companies were cited as negligent in this incident, and because the injured worker is only employed by one of these companies, the additional tort remedy may likely be pursued against the second company.
Contact a Georgia Workers’ Compensation Attorney
Regardless of the nature or extent of your injury, you have rights under Georgia workers’ compensation law. If you have been injured—even if it was partially your fault—don’t give up your rights under workers’ compensation. A good attorney can analyze your case and figure out what remedies are available to you. Call the Bader Law Firm in Georgia today for advice about your legal rights.